John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ to Debut in Upcoming Recital

Mar 12, 2021 | University Relations staff

DUBUQUE, Iowa - The University of Dubuque Heritage Center will debut its new custom-crafted pipe organ in John and Alice Butler Hall this spring.

A beautiful instrument with 3,000-plus pipes, the John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ will expand students’ musical horizons and enhance campus events for generations to come. It was gifted by UD Trustee John Butler (DHL’17) and his spouse, Alice (DHL’17), in 2017.

The debut of the John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ features University Organist and Professor of Music Charles Barland, DMA. Dr. Charles Barland, Organ Recital will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, 2021, as part of Heritage Center’s Spring 2021 Live at Heritage Center Performing Arts Series.

“More Than a Pipe Dream: A Socially Distanced Season” has restricted in-person performances to only UD faculty, staff, and students this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Free, in-person tickets to the organ recital are available for UD faculty, staff, and students exclusively via phone at 563.585.SHOW or in-person at the Farber Box Office, University of Dubuque, 2255 Bennet Street. The box office is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 90 minutes prior to events. All tickets are initially sold with socially distanced seating, subject to change. 

The general public is invited to join the Dr. Charles Barland, Organ Recital via livestream at

Barland was 16 when he first began organ lessons. Throughout his studies, more than one of his teachers had the opportunity to have a new organ created for their performance and teaching work.

“I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if I’d be in a position someday where a new organ was commissioned and I could share it with my students,” Barland said. “About 37 years after my first lesson, John and Alice Butler, the University of Dubuque, and Dobson Pipe Organ Builders have made it possible for me to each a new generation of musicians and to share the wonders of the pipe organ with our entire student body.”

For his recital, Barland chose repertoire that highlights the organ’s symphony of sound. The program will showcase music from Charles Marie-Widor, J.S. Bach, American composers Billy Strayhorn and Dudley Buck, and more. The program finale reveals the organ’s full capacity with music by Alexandre Guilmant.

“For an organist, the opportunity to perform and teach on a world-class pipe organ is the dream of a lifetime and now that dream is a reality,” Barland said.

Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa, built and installed the organ. It is the 97th new organ built by the firm. The John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ is also Dobson’s 20th organ in the state of Iowa and the largest pipe organ built by the firm in Iowa.

“Building an organ is a real team enterprise. It’s like a combination of fine furniture-making but on the scale of a small house. And it requires the skills of many people, from fine woodworkers to machinists to musicians who work with the pipes. All told, approximately 31,000 hours were required to build and install the organ. That’s equivalent to one person working more than 14 years,” said John Panning, president of Dobson.

The John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ was designed for teaching, solo recitals, and performances with other musical ensembles. It will not only be utilized as a practice and recital instrument, but it will also accompany campus events including worship, convocations, baccalaureate, choir performances, and Christmas at Heritage Center.

“Even as the finishing touches are being applied, students are having weekly lessons and practicing on this fantastic organ. Academic classes have scheduled visits to learn more about how a pipe organ works and the music it can deliver,” Barland said. “Many students will become interested in learning to play the organ and many more will be exposed to this instrument and be captivated by its tonal sonorities for the rest of their lives. This organ reinforces our ability to ensure that music and the arts are considered a vital component of our community and is central to our students’ experiences at the University of Dubuque.”

Weighing 21 tons, the John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ has 3,033 pipes ranging from 32 feet in length to half the size of a pencil. The majority of pipes are installed behind the façade on the left side of Butler Hall, with the largest pedal pipes placed in the hall’s acoustically-coupled attic and to the right side of the stage. Though not visible, these bass pipes will be heard with clarity everywhere thanks to an acoustical design by Threshold Acoustics of Chicago.

The visible pipes are not just for show – they are functional. These speaking pipes are made of an alloy of 85 percent tin with the remainder being lead and some trace elements like copper and antimony to harden the metal. The remaining 3,000-some pipes are made of similar tin-lead alloys or wood.

Two blowers totaling 10 horsepower supply the organ with the pressurized air or wind needed to play the pipes. These blowers are placed in the basement for sound isolation, and the wind is carried to the organ through large insulated ducts.

The console is located below the visible pipes. It has three keyboards, or manuals, played by the hands and one keyboard, or pedalboard, played by the feet. These four keyboards control four major groups of pipes, also known as divisions. A specially-engineered system of mechanical linkages called the action connects the keys to the valves under the pipes, giving the organist intimate control over how they play.

Because of their great size or remote location, some pipes are played using a special electrical control system designed to operate simultaneously with the mechanical action.

“Installation of the John and Alice Butler Pipe Organ accentuates Heritage Center’s position as a unique performance facility with extraordinary features. The organ’s sleek yet contemporary design exudes a warmth and richness of character consistent with the original aesthetics of John and Alice Butler Hall. The Butler’s gift of this instrument will benefit generations of music lovers and enhance our worship environment for special events such as Christmas at Heritage Center,” said Thomas Robbins, executive director of Heritage Center. “The addition of an organ in many ways reflects the vision of Heritage Center to honor time-honored traditions and our heritage, steeped in musical and institutional history. We look forward to celebrating this heritage through the organ with our patrons.”